The next generation of Inmarsat satellites will be significantly smaller than today’s GEO hardware. The company announced plans to launch a trio of mini-GEO satellites, developed by SWISSto12, by 2026 to bolster its L-band network.
Our customers have demanding, and often safety-critical, missions that rely on our satellite technology for links that can make the difference. The I-8’s will not only underpin our existing capabilities for the future, but enable ever more advanced safety innovations like [Space-Based Augmentation System] that can ultimately help save more lives.– Peter Hadinger, Chief Technology Officer, Inmarsat
The mini-GEO satellites are approximately 1.5 cubic meters, less than a quarter the size of a traditional GEO satellite. SWISSto12 will leverage its HummingSat platform, combined with 3D-printing technologies and specialized Radio-Frequency (RF) and payload products, on the satellites.
The I-8 constellation will join the L-band payloads recently launched on Inmarsat’s I-6 satellites. The first of those satellites is in the process of entering service over Asia Pacific. The second is expected to begin operations over Europe, Africa, and the Americas in 2024.
Those L-band payloads on the I-6 satellites were the first step in refreshing and improving the safety and narrow-band communications channels. The additional payloads of the I-8 constellation will allow the company to retire its current I-4 satellites, while boosting coverage, capacity, and resiliency for safety services, emergency tracking, IoT, and other lightweight communications.
Speaking about its selection for the satellite build, SWISSto12 CEO Emile de Rijk added, “With HummingSat, we have created a highly-advanced new class of small geostationary spacecraft that delivers world-leading connectivity capabilities at a fraction of the cost. Our proprietary 3D printing of Radio Frequency payload technology allows us to push the limits of existing capability and service new and existing business cases for geostationary satellite communications.”
Inmarsat is not the only company pursuing smaller GEO solutions in the inflight connectivity segment. Anuvu partnered with Astranis in 2021 to develop a microGEO constellation supporting Ku-band and Ka-band services for inflight broadband service. That effort is anticipated to transition from theoretical to actual later this year.
While Anuvu and Astranis anticipate a 7-10 year lifespan for their Ku/Ka satellites, SWISSto12 and Inmarsat appear more optimistic about the longevity of their model, with expectations of L-band operations on the I-8 constellation into the 2040s.
These three new satellites join five other Inmarsat payloads planned for launch in the next three years. The GX 7, 8, and 9 satellites are slated for 2025, while the GX-10a/b payloads for polar coverage are expected to orbit in 2024.
Note: This story has been updated to reflect that “microGEO” is a trademarked name, not a more general concept.
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